Online collaboratives a new source for film distribution

It’s no secret that directors can be discovered on YouTube and that Facebook can help market movies, but a few industryites and creatives are digging a little deeper into the Web’s networking capabilities.

Among a handful of entertainment community sites, two new ones are centered on collaboration in creative activity and film distribution.

Former Senator Films acquisitions exec Orly Ravid and indie marketing maven Jeffrey Winter have just launched the Film Collaborative, an arts-friendly nonprofit that aims to help indies find and facilitate distribution.

Anyone can sign up as a member (rates run $50-$250) at Thefilmcollaborative.org to tap into TFC’s menu of discounted services. A $100 membership includes a one-hour distribution consultation, for example. Access to a networking site for filmmakers and other biz info is free.

But while TFC’s toppers liken their collaborative to an “arts mission,” it’s not a charity or last resort, Ravid says: “We want to be and are a safe place for filmmakers to get complete distribution. While being that safe place, we encourage filmmakers to treat this option as professionally as they would the old model of giving all their rights away to one company, and not to be insecure or ashamed of it, as if their film isn’t good enough for traditional distribution.”

Ravid, who spent several years in biz affairs at Wolfe Releasing, says she and Winter are trying to steer clear of using “old terms like ‘sales agent’ or ‘distributor.’” She’s passionate about helping filmmakers decipher legal documents and shape the best deal terms. And while TFC can also help with direct distribution, it does not buy rights: “We don’t believe in it,” says Ravid.

Ravid and Winter can’t handle every film that comes their way, but they’re vowing to work on those they can help and have an array of affiliated pros to fill in some of the blanks. TFC’s network of vendors — from marketing and PR experts to legal eagles and sales agents — also come at discounted rates for TFC members.

Among the films on TFC’s roster so far are San Sebastian and Sundance prize winner “Undertow” (TFC is assisting with the U.S. theatrical release and handling global fest booking) and Berlin fest entry “The Owls” (it reps worldwide sales).

Winter, who is a niche and grassroots film marketing specialist, says, “Anyone and everyone can make a movie inexpensively now, but no service agency existed to help get your film out.”

But, as filmmakers are slowly making the transition from traditional deals to the brave new worlds of DIY and digital distribution, TFC’s toppers say old habits die hard.

“On the one hand, filmmakers want our help, but they’re clinging to the old model,” says Ravid.

Planet Illogica (Pi) is another collaborative website, this one aimed at artists working in film, music and fashion.

Founded by former Von Dutch CEO Tonny Sorensen, the site launched in July and was inspired by the Dane’s desire to help artists find the tools they need to create, promote and sell their work.

Pi chief marketing officer Ken Goldstein says he and Sorensen felt there was a real need for “a better way for artists and people with creative agendas to build their brand and get their projects out to the world.”

They’ve loaded the site with the latest tech gadgetry to enable filmmakers and musicians to create their own Web destinations to show off their work. Behind the site is a real-world community that includes a head of film (producer Stephen Nemeth) and head of music (former Atlantic Records exec Bob Johnson).

The site is open to the public and so far counts some 6,000 artists who have been drawn by word of mouth alone.

Pi, which was created with help from AFI’s Digital Content Lab, is also a way for Sorensen and company to scout talent. These talents, housed under Pi’s Artist in Residence program AIR, may be offered deals and partnerships through Pi’s network of affiliates, such as PlayStation, Nike, Best Buy and Guitar Center.

Sorensen put completion funds into Pi artist Michael Nash’s documentary “Climate Refugees,” which recently showed at Sundance. He linked it with another Pi artist, Castleforte, who created animation for the opening of the film.

Planet Illogica is also working with companies like Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media on social-action campaigns. Pi is the art partner for an upcoming college tour to promote Participant-backed docu “Oceans,” a Disney release.

Explaining the biz model, Sorensen says, “As opposed to every other network that uses an advertising-based model, we’re doing it with product sales and licensing of user-generated content.”

He stresses that he prefers to put the focus on the talents of the site’s artists and do away with ads and “friend” networks that can be distractions. On Pi, “Your friends are your collaborators as opposed to being ‘leecher friends,’” he adds with a laugh.

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